Sustainability


Years ago I worked in Moscow and was amazed at how many “Remont” or repair shops there were and, how many women carried empty shopping bags – just in case. Making do was a way of life in Soviet times but the Remont shops closed as the throw-away society came in. Jugaad, a common-sense approach to making do is the Indian way.

Now for the factories

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Boxes, punnets, packs and bunches,
Piles and piles of long-hauled fruit -
Flown en masse from other countries -
Stacked on supermarket shelves.

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Swaminathan’s much celebrated Tamil play Thaneer Thaneer (Water, Water – 1981) is about a remote village in rural India, facing severe water shortages. All their efforts to deal with the issue are met with no more than the indifference of local politicians and the apathy of the local press. The drama is compelling with an outsider helping to launch a cooperative scheme to bring water from a spring ten miles away and, various twists in a drama that ends in tears. It straddled the ever widening gap between rural and urban communities and, highlights an issue that is starting to ignite unrest and, strategic debate at the highest global levels.

In India human settlements are called “abadi” – which means that they are based on water. The word for water is “ab” in Persian and “ap” in Sanskrit. And “Abroo” means human dignity – which is a function of access to water itself. Global population is climbing from 6 to 9 billion by 2050, and our approach to all global resources has to respond. Oil and carbon dominates debate; food production will have to rise by up to 70 per cent to meet projected demand but, water is no less a challenge. The issue is way beyond drinking, cooking and washing – water is embedded in all products and shortages challenge human dignity, sustainable communities and business continuity alike.
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Last week, Wiseman Dairies, who control one third of the milk market in the UK announced a serious profits warning; their bottom line will be reduced by £7 million less this year and £16 million next. The shareprice fell to 330p (16/09/10) from a high of 536p in July. This is a 20 per cent fall and, though competitors Dairy Crest differ on the reasons for such competitive trading conditions it is likely that such an impact is due to the intensification of a price war between the major multiples – supermarkets and convenience stores. The three leading suppliers in the UK milk market have a 90 per cent market share and yet, they have absolutely no control over the price and very little control over short term retail tactics that are destroying shareholder and stakeholder value alike.

It may seem perverse to link this plunge in share price to food and drink waste but, here goes.

A few weeks ago, one of the UK’s celebrity chefs held a Charity Dinner for VIPs. On the menu, dishes were made exclusively out of throw away food. You see, Britain is a land of leftovers. Over eight million tonnes of food and drink are thrown away and wasted each year and five million tonnes of that could have been avoided. According to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs we throw away 440,000 tonnes of meat and fish; 400,000 tonnes of potatoes; 560,000 tonnes of dairy products; 390,000 tonnes of cereal products, 610,000 tonnes of fruit; 630,000 tonnes of bread and 730,000 tonnes of vegetables; 250,000 tonnes of desserts, cakes and sweets and 140,000 tonnes of alcohol – only 6 per cent of the total. In terms of retailers, Tristram Stuart’s important book Waste estimates that Sainsbury’s send an estimated 60,000 tonnes and Asda 75,000 tonnes to landfill every year. According to UN figures the food and drink wasted in the UK in 2009 could have fed 35 million flood victims in Pakistan for a year. Estimates vary between £400 to £700 per family per year.

From field to ... landfill

Why do we waste so much? T L sees these price wars as part of the problem. Here’s why.  (more…)

Earlier today, Rob Bell spoke at the University of Hull Logistics Institute Conference on Profitable, Sustainable and Ethical global logistics. Opening with highlights from the recent Three F’s Global crisis – Food; Fuel and Finance – he went on to quote Drucker; that demography will dictate the future. With population rising from 6 to 9 billion by 2050 – in 1804 it was 1 billion; it took 123 years to reach 2 billion but the last 4 billion have taken an average of 12 years each to reach – it is not climate that will hit hardest but the need to do more with far less of this worlds scarce resources. Profit can only be a function of dealing with these issues or, we are all bankrupt. So what does this all mean for global logistics?

As Martin Christopher has emphasised, companies no longer compete; supply chains do and, as globalisation forces the pace on sourcing ever cheaper raw materials and manufacturing these supply chains are starting to get squeezed from above – by shareholders looking for better returns – and below – by stakeholders such as the workers who are starting to react at working conditions and insecure livelihoods and, consumers who are starting to factor in ethical considerations to their buying decisions. Let’s not forget that the recent strikes in China’s booming coastal cities have forced a 30 per cent hike in wages in a country that is not soft on dissidents. And, let’s not forget that a video on You Tube of a Kit Kat made of Orang U Tang fingers brutally highlighted the plight of this endangered species and forced Nestle to rethink and act on their sourcing of Palm Oil from unsustainable forests. Activism is on the move for those who do not work their supply chains using sustainable and ethical principles.

The Majority World - opportunity or banana skin?

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In the 1968 film The Graduate, a young character fresh out of College, played by Dustin Hofmann, emerges from the pool in his diving suit and flippers to be given advice on his future. “I just want to say one word to you young man, just one word – plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” Just like the advice; this extraordinarily durable material carried all before it revolutionising whole industries though, over time, its very durability and non-biodegradable nature have made it a menace for the planet. 

Indian cities are characterised by huge volumes of waste and landfills overflow with plastic. In their valuable book Life in Plastic (2000) Robert Edwards and Rachel Kellet cover how India had not been a major user of plastic until legislation shifts in the 1980s when the Government sanctioned a dramatic increase in its production to assist industries to become globally competitive. The use of plastic then increased rapidly as more people moved to cities and the bonfire of the restrictive licensed Raj in 1991 triggered increased imports. Several studies highlight the impact plastic extruding machines have had on a whole range of traditional craft-based industries and the skills that had been passed through generations. Here are a few:

Tradition has its place ...

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Mayhews London Labour and the London Poor (1861) describes street folk of the fast expanding capital city with flower sellers as the “aristocracy” of the street; their elevated status due to a combination of wealthy clients and the need to own sheds to store and carts to move their fragile crop avoiding, in his delightful phrase, “concusive” transit – he may have been anticipating the last mile in Chennai! Mayhew describes in some detail a supply system that, by the end of the 19th century, was copied in the major US cities with horicultural growing centres located within or close to the major centres of population of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.

By the 1950s, the expansion of the interstate highway system facilitated transportation of cut flowers over longer distances with nurseries expanding further afield in Colorado; Denver and California.  Today, horticulture has taken advantage of the rocket science of logistics to stretch supply lines into the most remote areas of the globe. It could act as a catalyst to transform Agriculture still further as well as being a testing house for green supply chains along the way. Here’s the story …

Flower power is big business

Today, the World cut flower market is worth close to $50 billion annuallly – the rose variety alone generating $10 billion – with logistics and ever more sophisticated supply chains enabling farmers in places like Columbia, Kenya and Ethiopia to become major players. This is big business in the developed world with a massive impact at the other end of the development scale. For example, in Kenya, horticulture generates $110 million exports per year and employs an estimated 500,000 people; 75% of whom are women earning up to $30 per month. (more…)

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